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CBS Sports Already familiar with pressure, Tom Herman remains focused on reviving Texas football

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Already familiar with pressure, Tom Herman remains focused on reviving Texas football


AUSTIN, Texas -- They aren't mincing words here at Texas.


Nine questions into his weekly Monday press conference, Longhorns coach Tom Herman was asked how he would respond "to a section of the fan base who thinks you're arrogant [and] don't take blame for the poor play by the team."

Wow, welcome to Week 3 of your second season, Tom.

It's not just Herman who answers to demanding constituents. USC coach Clay Helton can relate in this week's matchup with the Longhorns.

But give Texas' coach credit for diffusing a provocative situation in the moment.

"I love our fans," Herman replied. "Mack Brown told me when I got the job this could be the greatest job in America because [there's] tens of millions of people that care very passionately about their Longhorn football team. It can be very difficult, too."

I've covered Herman since 20148 when he rose to prominence at Ohio State. I never found him to be arrogant, even though he has a right to be. (Herman hates mentions of him being a MENSA member.)

He was brilliant with the Buckeyes, coaching up Cardale Jones and Ohio State to a national championship. Herman then led Houston to a New Year's Six bowl. He was a damn good recruiter landing the youngest Outland Trophy winner in history (Houston All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver). That was before securing the nation's No. 3 class here in Austin this February.

But "arrogant?" Where did that come from?

"I don't know," said Herman, who seemed genuinely surprised.

In one sense, it was one of those trap questions: "Do you still beat your dog?" By answering, either way you've admitted to beating your dog even if you have never done so.

In another sense, it reflected the sport's ultimate hypocrisy. College football culture and the fans who drive it have shown repeatedly they'd get behind Jack The Ripper if he delivered a conference title.

If the standard is overreacting to harmless questions, Nick Saban could keep himself hip deep in apologies to Alabama and national media through December.

And if you want to talk arrogance, ladies and gentlemen, let me remind you of the irrepressible, Phil Fulmer-baiting, altogether enjoyable Steve Spurrier.

Arrogant? Really, who gives a flip at a university that considers itself a cut above anyway? Tom Herman gets it. Football has needed to catch up for years. Meanwhile, he has an 8-7 record just 15 games into his Texas tenure.

"It's coming," Herman said. 

Baby steps don't seem to be tolerated around Austin. Last year's Texas Bowl win over Missouri was the program's first postseason victory since 2012.

"My job is just to galvanize the entire fan base," Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said.  "Expectations are pretty high, but they've been waiting for a while."

Two of the game's most respected and recognizable brand names will battle at Darrell K. Royal Stadium Saturday night. Last year's game was celebrated as a reboot to perhaps the best championship game ever played.

The 27-24 overtime loss to the then-No. 4 Trojans was also a reflection of the best the Longhorns can be under Herman.

"Inexperienced, injury-laden as we were, our best is good enough to play with anybody in the country," Herman said.  "You never want to be happy with a loss, but it was a very, I guess, proud moment to be able to play them the way we were able to play them."

The buzz is definitely diminished for the return match. For a pair of schools with 11 combined national championships, "football factory" doesn't come to mind this week. USC and Texas are each 1-1 this season.

Texas followed a second straight loss to Maryland with a narrow win over Tulsa. USC followed a season-opening victory over UNLV with a disappointing 17-3 loss at Stanford.

Clay Helton still can't seem to assuage a fan base even though he has won the Rose Bowl and a Pac-12 title in consecutive years at USC.

"I have officially lost faith in Helton and our coaching staff," wrote one poster on The Peristyle, USC's 247Sports message board after the Trojans were held to their fewest points against the Cardinal since 1944.

The complaints reflect those of any myopic fan base with outsized expectations. The board criticisms range from Sam Darnold looking better as a pro -- shouldn't he? -- to Stanford coach David Shaw's comments after the game.

"I've noticed [the narrative] is the tough guys at Stanford against the athletes at USC," Shaw said. "But I think, athletically, we're pretty evenly matched."

That could not have sat well with the USC faithful that watched their team roll over Stanford twice last season.

Never mind Helton has delivered a 22-7 record in his third full season as head coach. Never mind he was 6-4 before that as an interim holding the program together after the departures of Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Steve Sarkisian.

In many ways, Helton is the glue that has held the team together. Pete Carroll ain't walking through the door, but the truth is that Helton has the program back to the closest point since the glory years.

"I am glad I am not one of those people where I have to wake up and complain about something," Herman said when told the flak his counterpart is getting.

None of it seems to be enough. The same Kiffin -- often criticized for being born on third base -- won 10 games in a year (2011) the program was banned from a bowl. Before he went into rehab, Sarkisian won nine in 2014.

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Helton has outdone both.

Both these programs are used to trafficking in titles. In 18 combined seasons since 2009 by the schools, USC owns the only one (2017).

They also share a common bond: change.

"Coming from the outside, everyone doesn't realize this," said Del Conte in his second year at UT. "You've had three coaches in five years and four ADs in five years. There is no continuity. It hurts in recruiting. It hurts in your entire [operation]."

Since 2013, the schools have combined to employ eight head coaches and six ADs. Texas is still looking for the next Colt McCoy at quarterback. Since McCoy's final season in 2009, USC has had four quarterbacks drafted, none lower than the fourth round.

At both places, "the expectations are so high," Del Conte reiterated.

Meanwhile, this time of year, Herman has to worry only about blocking blitzing linebackers.

"I delete the Twitter app during the season," he said.


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As the pressure heats up, Tom Herman doesn't flinch

AUSTIN, Texas  Tom Herman came out smiling.

Dressed in a burnt orange polo, black athletic shorts and icy white Nike shoes, Herman began his press conference like any message-controlling-CEO would. He thanked his fans, thanked his bosses and complimented the atmosphere during Texas’ win Saturday at Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium. This was Herman’s pre-USC press conference, his opportunity for remarks prior to Texas’ most notable home game of the season.

It quickly transformed into something else. The presser became a rapid-fire questioning of Herman's 1-1 program following a 28-21 victory over Tulsa, a team that went 2-10 a year ago. This is the question Herman fielded first: “When you were over there at Houston, your teams played like their hair was on fire. Why don’t we see that type of brand of play at Texas?”

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“To answer the question as to the why, I don’t have a great one other than we’re working toward it to get there,” Herman said.

The next question involved the wording, “You know what 28-21 against Tulsa looks like to a fan base.” The one after that polled Herman on if he felt like Texas was “close” to being at the upper echelon in college football.

“I’ve been a part of programs where you’re playing certain folks on certain weeks and you’ve got to hope they screw it up,” Herman said. “That’s not us. I tell our folks all the time, our best is good enough.”

Herman is 8-7 early in his Texas tenure. The Longhorns have played top 10 teams (USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) to a single possession. Herman, in the past, cited those close calls as examples of growth. But that Texas is the same team that's twice lost to Maryland. It's the same program that's lost five games by five points or less, all of which were winnable entering the fourth quarter.

At one point a veteran reporter asked Herman if his team is “mentally fragile.” Herman paused and looked to the side for five seconds before answering with a confused look on his face, “Yeah, no.” That’s when Herman stated his team cares too much.

“We have to manage the feeling of wanting to be perfect for your teammate and make a play.”

The first USC-related question of the press conference did not occur until the eighth minute, and one of the nation’s most historic teams coming to town drew only two inquires during 30 minutes of remarks. Herman seemed almost relieved when the final question of the afternoon involved USC linebacker Porter Gustin, who he gushed over.

Herman, a Mensa member and someone who always comes across as highly intelligent (it's his brand), brushed aside many negative questions with ease. He smiled through difficult questions, and he mostly steered his answers to a place of positivity despite the trepidation of Longhorn nation leaving the win over Tulsa.

However, one question, at least from a facial expression standpoint, seemed to irk Herman a little.

Sounds like there's a section of your fan base that thinks you're arrogant, thinks that you don't take blame for a poor play by the team or tolerate questions about it or dignify their feelings that this team should be further along especially on offense than where it is right now. What would you say to that?”

Herman stared straight ahead at the questioner with a neutral expression, a look intense enough to make it look forced.

“I love our fans,” Herman said. “Mack Brown told me when I got the job that this can be the greatest job in America because there's tens of millions of people that care very passionately about what happens with their long horn football team and it can be one that's difficult too for the exact same reason, because there's tens of millions of people.”

It’s a bit of avoidance and plenty of truth from Herman in that moment.

Few jobs come with the pressure of Texas. Herman, after a slow start, is feeling the brunt of that in Year 2 of his tenure.

It’s been nearly 13 years since the Longhorns beat USC in the 2005 national title game. Some members of Texas’ 2018 class were not in elementary school then. Long ago these Longhorn pressers would involve football-specific questions and comments about individual athletes in a positive context. There was some of that Monday in Austin, but mostly Herman dealt with the residue of being a $5.5 million-a-year coach whose record could well drop to .500 by the end of the week against a ranked USC team.


Herman coasted through those tough questions with practiced poise. It’s what he’s done expertly since his days at Houston, when he mostly controlled a much smaller press pool. But it’s been a tough month for Herman as things from afar (Columbus) and near (Texas’ play) have begun to ratchet up the pressure on a regime still early in its run.

Despite the peppering, Herman never did crack under strain. He ended his press conference in much the way he started it – with a thank you.



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USC-Texas, Part III: The fight for national relevancy

The poster tubes from Wieden + Kennedy, PR firm for Fox Sports, arrived Tuesday morning. The contents were big, bold, clever, creative … and mercilessly undercut by recent events.

In one tube was a movie-style poster of Vince Young in a Texas uniform, running above a burnt-orange banner headline: “COMEBACK.” The subhead: “He Found The Perfect Ending.” It was an homage to the Longhorns’ epic, national title-winning victory over USC to end the 2005 season.

In the other tube was a movie-style poster of Sam Darnold in a USC uniform, winding up to throw beneath a red banner headline: “REVENGE.” The subhead: “They Waited 11 Years For This.” It paid tribute to the Trojans’ wild, double-overtime victory last September, the first meeting of the two programs since that classic in the Rose Bowl.

And then there was a notecard-sized insert with both, getting to the point of the promotion: a picture of a movie marquee that read, “USC vs. Texas, Part III.” On the back: “After two hits this big, you don’t end the story there. You make a trilogy.”

The third chapter, if you really want to call it that, plays out Saturday in Austin. As is the case in Hollywood, the sequels rarely compare to the original — and it’s really hard to carry the concept over to a quality Part III. (See: “The Godfather,” “Jaws,” “Rocky,” etc.)

This is the risk inherent with going all-in on a promotional concept before the season starts.

Fox plans. Maryland and Stanford laugh.

85d47500216a915808479e806f0c17dc USC’s Clay Helton and Texas’ Tom Herman will meet for the second time in as many years Saturday. (AP/Getty)

The Terrapins threw the first rotten tomato at this blockbuster marketing pitch, shocking Texas on Sept. 1 despite playing without suspended head coach D.J. Durkin. That was a feel-good win for Maryland players, and a feel-terrible defeat for both Tom Herman and Fox Sports.

Then the Cardinal knocked Part III down another notch, suffocating USC 17-3 last Saturday. The Trojans and true freshman quarterback JT Daniels were overwhelmed offensively: six possessions ended with punts, two with field goals (one missed) and three with turnovers. Trojans fans went back to complaining about coach Clay Helton, and Fox Sports execs went back to commiserating about the fate of their promo campaign, which also has included a widely aired TV spot based on the same trilogy theme.

“It’s sports,” said Blake Danforth, Fox Sports vice president for marketing, with a zen-master’s air of acceptance. “Your heart starts to drop [when they lose], but USC and Texas are such huge programs. You’re almost guaranteed to get something great from them.”

The splashy buildup was partially spoiled by actual game results. But the show must go on. And so must the marketing campaign that was put into action last spring.

“Even though both teams have lost, they’re national teams with big fan bases who will bring a lot of eyeballs to the game,” said Valerie Krebs of Fox Sports’ media relations department. “Given the history of these two teams, this was a game we wanted to get behind a little more, and show our commitment to college football.”

Truth be told, last year’s meeting was partially scuttled by an early loss as well — Texas was upset at home by Maryland, the first installment in a stunning two-year ownership of the Longhorns by the Terrapins. But then the USC-Texas matchup (“REVENGE”) turned out to be a thriller. According to Fox Sports’ Valerie Krebs, that telecast drew 4.9 million viewers, which wound up being the network’s fourth-most watched game of the 2017 regular season.

Building any kind of big-swing marketing idea around these two programs is, at present, a sizable risk. They have a ton of tradition and big fan bases, but neither are Alabama, Clemson or Ohio State — programs built to win big for the foreseeable future.

Heretical as it may sound, there is no guarantee of modern-day success at USC or Texas. They’ve lost their way, just enough, to instill doubt. Both Cadillac programs have been leaking oil for about a decade.

The Trojans have had the better of it lately, riding Darnold’s brilliance to a Rose Bowl triumph after the 2016 season and a Pac-12 championship last season. But USC hasn’t sniffed the national title chase since 2008, the year before Pete Carroll beat the NCAA posse out of town for the NFL.

8b4019eb7b68ddeef09e1b219a2df04d USC quarterback JT Daniels was running for his life most of the game against Stanford. (AP)

The loss to Stanford has Helton detractors scrubbing the fourth-year head coach’s résumé, picking out flaws. Remove Darnold’s career starts from the equation and Helton’s record is 10-9 — but it doesn’t make much sense to remove Darnold, as if Helton had nothing to do with his recruitment or his success upon arrival.

Helton is in a bit of a jam this year, starting a quarterback who should be a senior in high school but graduated early. Give him the rest of this season and all of next, at least, before passing judgment.

Herman has coached only 15 games at Texas, but the results are enough to make Mack Brown sorely missed. Herman is 8-7 thus far — better than Charlie Strong’s abysmal 16-21 mark, but not anywhere near what Longhorns fans expect. Especially for a guy Texas is paying $5 million a year based on two years of previous experience as a head coach.

But Herman took over at a perilous time, with facility upgrades needed and recruiting trending below the gold standard where Brown operated for many years. Year Two shouldn’t be a deal breaker for him, anymore than it was for Strong (he got three).

And, hey, the winner of this game will at least come out feeling better about themselves than they had at any point in September. Maybe it can be the start of something big.

It will never be the start of something as big as what Fox’s now-awkward marketing campaign pitched, though. You can’t fault the network for trying — and it will keep trying with future games this season. (Danforth coyly touted a promo in the works for Michigan State-Michigan, which the network will show in October.)

But as trilogies go, Texas-USC peaked with the original, offered thrills in an otherwise aggrandized sequel and now will end with a Jaws III thud



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What's wrong with Texas football? Here's an inside look at Tom Herman's tall-order turnaround


AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been 21 months since Tom Herman took over at Texas, nearly two years to gauge the program’s progress since he arrived with the task of reviving an ailing blue blood. So far on the field, the flashy hire has yielded uneven results. Herman has gone 8-7, with a loss to Maryland to open the season and a too-close-for-comfort victory over Tulsa. It has raised a question that’s shrouded Austin for nearly a decade: “What’s wrong with Texas?”

The reality of Texas’ program will always be ultimately judged on the scoreboard. And with No. 22 USC coming to Austin this weekend, there’s a marquee opportunity for Herman to earn a signature victory on a national stage.

With Texas in the spotlight, it’s fair to examine the complicated reality of where Texas is in real time under Herman. Certainly, Texas isn’t yet “back,” a saying that’s turned into a program parody. But there are signs in key areas that Texas is trending toward Mack Brown’s glory days and away from the three straight losing seasons under Charlie Strong from 2014-16. (Texas’ prior three consecutive losing seasons came from 1937-39.) The signs vary from a new athletic director who once reveled in pointing out Texas’ flaws to physical transformations that would make Jenny Craig blush. There’s added staff, $195 million in facilities and a recruiting operation that’s starting to chase as the top-10 teams Texas needs to catch.

“We’re light years ahead of where we were,” Herman told Yahoo Sports this week. “Just culturally, there’s a culture of commitment rather than just compliance, I really believe that.”

Herman led the Longhorns to their first winning season since 2013 and first bowl victory since 2012, creating enough juice to land Rivals.com’s No. 4 recruiting class. There are still long-term quarterback questions and a distinct lack of quality depth on both the offensive and defensive line. But there’s also a strong feeling that things are trending right, with an influx of young players providing a peek at the new Texas.

“There is genuine momentum, there is genuine development of relationships, development of continuity, development of just physical attributes and football playing skills,” Herman said. “We’re close. There is an underlying frustration that we haven’t gotten over the hump yet, but it doesn’t discourage us.”

Herman has embarked on a task no one could have envisioned a coach at Texas confronting in this or any recent generation. Here’s a look at tangible changes that have occurred as all of college football wonders: After nearly a lost decade since Texas played for the 2009 national title, will its football program finally show signs of life?

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Tom Herman’s Texas Longhorns will host USC on Saturday. (AP)


To see how the Longhorns have overhauled themselves in the weight room, strength coach Yancy McKnight hands a reporter the booklet he gives every NFL scout that goes through Texas. There are striking before-and-after portraits that are both signs of the future and indictments of the past. “A lot of those guys looked like Wednesday night beer league softball guys,” McKnight told Yahoo Sports.

When McKnight and his staff arrived following the 2016 season, they were surprised how training basics such as power-clean lifting and back squats were either non-existent or neglected. McKnight has a ZZ-Top beard, an affinity for listening to Slayer and a knack for results that resonate just as loudly.

Only 10 players, for example, could squat more than 500 pounds when the staff arrive. That number is up to about 45, according to McKnight. (They didn’t test power clean initially on arrival because the last staff didn’t do it, but there’s 55 now. That’s up from 35 at the end of last summer.)

It showed in Texas’ physical profiles, as defensive lineman Breckyn Hager could only squat 365 pounds and bench press 275 pounds. (He’s up to 525 and 330).


The before and after comparisons in the 18 months since McKnight’s staff arrived are jarring, especially in metrics that quantify explosion. Defensive lineman Charles Omenihu (6-foot-6 and 270 pounds), who projects as a mid-round draft choice, improved his vertical jump from 25.5 to 37.5, his broad jump from 8’3.5″ to 9’4.5″ and his back squat from 405 to 535.

There are other eye-popping leaps. Senior cornerback Kris Boyd, who is considered Texas’ best draft-eligible NFL prospect, improved his squat from 375 to 600, cut his body fat from 8.8 percent to 4.7 and increased his vertical from 35.5 to 39.5. Fifth-year senior Andrew Beck weighs one pound less at 260, but cut his body fat from 20.2 percent to 14.3 percent and increased his squat 125 pounds while nursing a foot injury that kept him off the field for two seasons.

Beck appreciates how the motivation from McKnight and his staff is tied to explanation. Overall, the strength staff has increased from eight to 13 – five are full-time – and that increase includes a sports science expert, Matt Van Dyke, who quantifies every step of every practice and weight-room rep.

“They really explain the process to us,” Beck said. “They have a ton of technology and people a lot smarter than me to make sure we’re not only going to be the biggest, fastest and strongest. But we’re also going to be freshest.”

McKnight said the Longhorns may have a first rounder emerge this year, but there’s no sure-fire player earmarked there for the 2019 draft. He sees a handful of players on the roster who can develop and get there in the upcoming years, as there’s buzz in the program about true freshmen safeties B.J. Foster and Caden Sterns, true freshman tailback Keaontay Ingram and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Sam Cosmi.

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Texas defensive back Kris Boyd (2) knocks the ball loose from Oklahoma State’s Chris Lacy (15) for an incomplete pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)

Since 2010, there’s only been two first-round NFL draft picks from Texas – tackle Malcolm Brown in 2015 safety Kenny Vaccaro in 2013. (If Houston’s Ed Oliver goes in the first round as expected in 2019, the Cougars will have three in that span.) The last first-round pick from the Texas offense was Vince Young in 2006, and Texas went on a drought from 2009 to 2017 without a single offensive lineman drafted. (Oklahoma has seven first-round picks from their offense since 2006 and seven overall offense linemen were drafted from 2009-17.)

One of the most tangible signs of progress McKnight saw was Texas holding the ball – and the lead – against Tulsa in the fourth quarter to secure the 28-21 win on Saturday night. Texas dominated the clock with 11:06 time of possession, a drive that started in the weight room as they controlled the line of scrimmage and imposed their will. “Anytime you can get the ball back with almost five minutes left and them with two timeouts and you can run the clock out, you feel pretty good about what you just did,” McKnight said.


On Tuesday afternoon, Texas director of recruiting Bryan Carrington bursts into the office of his boss, Longhorn player personnel director Derek Chang. Carrington strikes the pose of a football sitcom office neighbor – carrying a PlayStation, four copies of the new NBA 2K game and one ear bud in his ear as he chatted with a parent of a player. Carrington and Chang are the odd couple who comprise the face of Texas recruiting, a combination of sizzle and steak.

Chang, 36, is a former producer on ESPN’s GameDay and for the Longhorn Network who took an unpaid recruiting assistant job at Ohio State and incrementally climbed to the top of his field. He cops to being a pinch square and constantly in search of a few hours sleep, as he and his wife, Brenda, have a 5-month old son, Bryson, at home.

Carrington, 28, likes to bust his boss’ chops for wearing white longsleeve T-Shirts under his regular T-Shirt. (Carrington admits this while wearing skinny jeans.) Carrington has a passion to connect, as he jokes that he met his girlfriend – YouTube personality Shaneice Parkin, who has over a half-million subscribers – with familiar methods. “Like I meet most of our recruits,” Carrington said, flashing a halogen grin. “In them DMs.”

They set the tone for a recruiting department of 16, key cogs in attempting to turn Texas football around. That department includes six students while Texas builds to catch the recruiting machines at places like Alabama, Georgia and Clemson, as there were less than 10 total people in the recruiting department under Strong. (The 16 current folks in recruiting doesn’t include the three full-time and six students in creative media – graphics, video, social media. There were zero under Strong.)

“It’s perfect for what that department needs,” Herman said of the yin-yang of Chang and Carrington. “You need an analytical general manager, need-based, numbers-based, talent-based guy that can tell you exactly what we need to sign right now for 2022. [And there’s Bryan], a guy that can get on the phone with a recruit for an hour and chop it up and sell our vision and be genuine with it. It’s not phony, not fake.”

The results have been real as well. Already, 45 of the 79 recruited scholarship players on the Longhorns roster have been signed by Herman’s staff.

Perhaps most telling is that Texas’ reach spans well beyond Texas. Chang points out that the backbone of their program will always lie local, as they believe the best high school football is played in Texas. But they’ve also been able to leverage the Longhorns’ national brand, as two Rivals.com top-10 overall prospects – No. 6 Trey Sanders (RB) from IMG Academy and No. 7 Bru McCoy (WR) from Mater Dei – have visits scheduled this weekend from Florida and California. Overall, there are approximately 75 prospects visiting Austin. “I think it will be the biggest weekend we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Carrington said.

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Will Texas be able to land the No. 1 running back in the 2019 class, Trey Sanders? (Rivals)

The staff learned putting together that initial 2017 class that just showing up and flashing the Hook ‘Em sign wasn’t going to be enough. Texas signed a shotgun class that rated modestly at No. 31. (Texas coaches feel like the class panned out fairly well, as 12 of the 17 players are on the two-deep.) There’s confidence that Texas will follow up the No. 4 class from 2018, which has 11 true freshman contributors already, with a 2019 class that ends up in the top 10.

Texas ranks No. 15 in the Rivals.com rankings for 2019, but the key number may be a star average of 3.67 that’s better than two teams in the top five. The best long-term recruiting news for a program in a near-decade long search for a star quarterback may be that the only 2020 commitment is Hudson Card, a Lake Travis (Austin) prospect who is the No. 3 dual-threat in his class. There’s still a lot for work left in the 2019 class, which has a strong foundation. “If we finish this class strong, if we have a good season, which will help us with this class, we’re going to have the foundation,” Chang said, “to do some really special things.”


No one knows the weaknesses of the Texas football program better than athletic director Chris Del Conte. In his prior gig at TCU, Del Conte delighted in pointing out Texas’ deficiencies to recruits who’d visit his office. He had a trove of negative articles, pictures of the empty student section and facilities comparisons. He knows the negative recruiting pitch against Texas because he’d delivered it, as he can still quote ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit’s famous quote about Charlie Strong “being released from the cesspool of being in Austin.”

After spending years asking recruits a pointed question about Texas – “Why would you go there?” – Del Conte is now tasked with building Austin back to a destination. He arrived in December of 2017 to find facilities that essentially hadn’t been updated in three decades. He compared asking students to go to Texas under the current conditions as recruiting students to the chemistry department with “a 1950s Bunsen burner.” Del Conte said: “We had set the standard for facilities, everyone was gunning for Texas, and they passed our standard because we had set the standard. Now, we’re just going back and recalibrating the standards.”

Texas is planning a new $185 million facility in the south end zone that will begin construction next season and be complete for the start of the 2021 season. Del Conte’s specialty is raising money, and he’s already raised $110 million.

“If you continue to invest in facilities and your infrastructure, they minimize dips,” he said. “When you don’t do any investing for long periods of times, you can have drastic shifts because everyone else is continuing to do that.”

Del Conte has already significantly impacted Texas’ football gameday. He helped create a “Bevo Walk” experience by clearing out San Jacinto Boulevard adjacent to Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium. (Most of the big donors had parked there, and Del Conte fixed that by giving them valet parking nearby).

He’s attempted to turn each gameday into a celebration of Austin, filling the stadium area with local staples – live music, cheap beer and food trucks. Texas also ripped up its student section, creating one giant area for general admission that had the students in early and loud well before the game. (There was also in-stadium live music.) “You have to create an event that surrounds the game,” he said.

Texas football’s chief of staff, Fernando Lovo, spearheaded a $10 million overhaul of the locker room and team areas soon after Herman’s staff arrived. He cut through the “burnt orange tape” of doing business at Texas, ridding the football offices of wallpaper from “That 70s Show” that made the office feel like “a hunting lodge.”

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The Texas Longhorns cheerleaders perform in the third quarter against the San Jose State Spartans at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 9, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Getty file photo)

The Texas football building’s lightning overhaul in the staff’s first six months – including Lovo Facetiming with the contractors from a summer vacation in Italy – gave a spark of hope for progress. “This place is an aircraft carrier,” Lovo said. “It’s hard to turn, but when it turns and that thing’s rolling and rolling and rolling.”

Herman is fond of saying that teams win games and administrations win championships. And when UT president Greg Fenves told him they were moving on hiring an athletic director and asked for recommendations, Herman passed on Del Conte’s name and then called him with a simple message: “I need you.”

Del Conte has a pragmatic view of the long term. He says it will take Herman two or three strong recruiting classes to compete nationally. (Last year’s was the first.) And he’s going to do his part making sure rival ADs can’t do what he did at TCU.

“I never see it as rebuild, more as restore, because you had a tumultuous time,” Del Conte said. “The foundation and everything that’s been at the University of Texas is on the shoulders of others, and it is great. Now you’re just restoring that.”


During Texas training camp this year, Andrew Beck adjusted his route amid a full sprint and hauled in a long pass. He saw Herman sprint toward him at full speed and hand him a business card. In black letters on a white backdrop, the card simply read: “YOU’RE F’ING AWESOME.” Beck said: “I just started laughing. I was like, ‘That’s sweet!'”

As Herman enters his second season at Texas, the vibe is becoming indicative of his personality – serious yet a pinch goofy, a baseline of hard work complimented by a pinch of brashness. When Herman was offensive coordinator at Ohio State and needed to keep the various quarterbacks – Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones – engaged, he’d have an assistant deliver a joke of the day. After a year of establishing the culture and discipline needed at Texas, the program is starting to reflect his personality more.

“He’s really emphasized that,” Beck said. “It’s a disciplined operation, but you have to loosen up and have fun. The first game [against Maryland] we played so uptight it just wasn’t fun.”

Beck is a fifth-year senior from Tampa who went nearly two full seasons without playing because of foot injuries. He’s a two-time captain and endured the program going 16-21 in Strong’s three seasons. He’s seen so much change that he jokes the only people left from when he arrived are the sports information employees.

Beck has seen two coaching staffs fight hard to change the ways at Texas and has been impressed by the caliber of progress from the inside.

“To expect a coach in his first, even second or third year to come in and immediately flip this? That’s extremely unfeasible [or] borderline impossible because he’s fighting an uphill battle against the way things have been here, Beck said. “And the steps that he’s made between Year 1 and Year 2 are unbelievable, but everybody wants it fixed now and that’s just not how the world works.”

To Beck, the signs of progress came in a 28-14 road victory at No. 24 West Virginia last year and by Texas winning its bowl game against Missouri, 33-16. For Longhorn fans pining for Vince Young to duel with Reggie Bush, those demarcations of progress will elicit eye rolls. But Beck said in previous years the team wouldn’t have approached a road game against a ranked team with an attitude they could win. “It would’ve been alright we’re going to go in and give it our best shot,” he said.

Beck knows that Texas fans want the instant gratification of “winning by 300” against USC this weekend and are frustrated. But what he’s seen over his star-crossed five seasons in Austin is a solid base for the future. “It’ll be interesting to see in five and 10 years how he continues to move things around,” Beck said, “because I do think things will change for the better.



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  • 2021 Texas Football Schedule

    W 38-18
    L 21-40
    W 58-0
    Texas Tech
    W 70-35
    W 32-27
    L 48-55
    Oklahoma State
    L 24-32
    L 24-31
    @Iowa State
    L 7-30
    L 56-57 OT
    @West Virginia
    L 23-31
    Kansas State
    W 22-17

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